Pierre Gasly intends to be the “obvious” option for a top team for 2023 when his contract with AlphaTauri runs out. And there is possibly a scenario – though it may seem unlikely – where despite his Red Bull ties he could fill the Mercedes seat of Lewis Hamilton.
Gasly finished ninth in the 2021 Drivers’ Championship but was widely considered one of the more impressive drivers on the grid, particularly of Hamilton and Max Verstappen, as he finished in the points 15 times. The best of those came at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix where he ended third.
The 25-year-old has rebuilt his reputation impressively since being demoted to AlphaTauri, formerly Toro Rosso, midway through 2019 in his maiden season with the Red Bull senior team after he had struggled alongside Verstappen.
He was replaced by Alex Albon after round 12 of 21 that season but has since performed excellently at the Red Bull company’s second team, even winning the Italian Grand Prix in 2020.
Gasly scored a career-best 110 points in 2021 and outscored rookie team-mate Yuki Tsunoda by 78, also out-qualifying the Japanese in 21 of 22 races and averaging a half-second pace advantage in qualifying.
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Discussing his long-term future recently, the Frenchman said his “priority” is with Red Bull and added: “They’re saying that probably 2023 there could be an option. I’ll try to put myself in the best position for that, but it’s a discussion that we know we’re going to have next year with Red Bull.
“I’m ninth in the driver championship. All eight guys ahead of me are the drivers running for the four best constructors. That’s why it’s important for me to show that if there is a free seat, I should be the obvious choice. That’s what I’m trying to do.”
Gasly’s Red Bull ties mean they are clearly the most likely team of the top four whom he will join, over McLaren, Ferrari or Mercedes. But those connections certainly do not guarantee him a seat.
World champion Verstappen wants to spend his entire career with Red Bull and that narrows down the available seats in the foreseeable future to just one, making the competition that much fiercer.
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Sergio Perez currently occupies the seat and enjoyed a strong end to his debut season. He will hope to take another step forward in 2022 and more podiums and race wins will then see him keep his spot for 2023.
Even if he doesn’t, there may be familiar alternatives to Gasly for Red Bull such as Tsunoda or Albon. Or perhaps another non-Red Bull driver may emerge as an option, like Perez did.
And so if the Red Bull seat next to Verstappen is not open for 2023, what then for Gasly? Perhaps Mercedes? It is not completely out of the question. If he has another strong season in 2022, he will feel ready for a move up the grid.
If he does retire, Gasly could enter contention to join George Russell at Mercedes. He is only under contract with Red Bull until the end of 2023, per Helmut Marko, and so may be willing to cut ties with them in order to join the Silver Arrows rather than waiting for a 2024 shot with the Bulls if that scenario arises.
Esteban Ocon, the former Mercedes junior, is another option who would come into contention for Mercedes were Hamilton to call it a day in 12 months’ time.
But Ocon is contracted with Alpine until the end of 2024 and they are unlikely to want to part ways with a driver they see as a future championship winner two years before then.
That could therefore make Gasly a surprise prime candidate for the role, especially if he maintains his ascent.
How truly likely is it that Gasly joins Mercedes? Right now, unlikely. But if Red Bull do stick with Perez for 2023 and Hamilton retires then maybe, just maybe, Mercedes could be tempted to try and snatch the French driver off of their main rivals.